Promotional Products: The Importance of Transparency and the Supply Chain
I had a chance to spend time recently with Stephanie Leader, president and CEO of Columbus, Ohio-based distributor LeaderPromos, and we spoke about the importance of transparency and the supply chain as it relates to promotional products. By virtue of our mission at QCA, we focus a great deal on the collaborative effort between suppliers and distributors to present a transparent supply chain to end-users who are increasingly asking more difficult questions. Stephanie provided some valuable insights about what she sees from, and with, her customers. Here's our conversation:
Transparency is the new normal with promotional products clients. What do you think is the most important thing a supplier can do to help you along that path?
Our clients are asking for more transparency. Our suppliers need to understand that if clients want transparency with regard to the supply chain, our focus is on delivering just that. And if suppliers don't understand that, and aren't proactive about being able to deliver transparency, they're quite likely not suppliers we would work with.
That's why we're supporters of QCA accreditation, but that's not the only thing I want to discuss. In short, though, the accreditation is for the process that includes suppliers' factories, corporate facilities, and supply chain so that we have the necessary information we need. It's both for our own peace of mind about the integrity of the supply chain, and peace of mind and assurances that we can pass along to our clients.
Some suppliers struggle with the whole transparency issue, for a variety of reasons, but often because they often don't want to give up information about their chosen manufacturers and their processes. That's obviously their prerogative, but it's a choice that comes with no small amount of risk. By comparison, the people who we do business with, they're all about accountability throughout the supply chain. In fact, they actually come in and they perform their own audits, in addition to outside audits or accreditation.
How does transparency impact your customers?
For our customers, transparency makes all the difference. For them, knowing our processes and the steps we take ahead of the curve, and that the suppliers we work with have been audited, and that we only affiliate with these types of companies helps earn their confidence and trust. They get a real sense of what our focus is as a company and understand that we care about social responsibility, the integrity of the supply chain and doing the right things to protect them. For us, this is a point of differentiation in the promotional products industry as a whole and a compelling reason that clients choose us over many of the other distributor options available. They know we care as much about supply chain transparency as they do and they know we'll never do anything that would put them at risk. Our commitment to transparency leads to their peace of mind.
What's the significance of the audit process for your clients?
Our clients know that when it comes to audits, we're not one-and-done. We are laser focused on this on an ongoing basis. We're very aware of the fact that it's critical to make sure that what was audited is actually the factory that is going to be making the product, and this is an area that we have to make sure our suppliers are upholding on an ongoing basis.
For instance, a supplier might have gone through the QCA audit process, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they might not pick up another factory along the way, one that hasn't been audited. We don't have any way of knowing that, and that's why we don't stop with one audit. We very much feel that the onus is on us to continue to audit our suppliers, regardless of the fact that they received accreditation at one point, so we leave nothing to chance in that regard.
These audits help us very much in the respect that it shows our clients and the industry at large that we are proactive and supportive of not only making sure that anything that's manufactured overseas and brought to the United States is compliant, but it's also to show that we're a part of the greater good for the entire industry, and that we stand behind an issue if it did happen. It definitely gives our clients a lot of reassurances and we think that's part of the reason they want to work with LeaderPromos.
It's always great catching up with Stephanie and the work she and her team at LeaderPromos is doing. It's always innovative and some of the best in the business. LeaderPromo is a member of QCA's Distributor Advocacy Council. If you have questions for Stephanie, comments about transparency in the supply chain, the importance of audits or anything else discussed here, leave a note in the comments. We'd love to hear your thoughts on these issues.
Jeff is executive director of the Quality Certification Alliance (QCA). Prior to that, he was responsible for developing safe and compliant brand merchandise for Michelin. He has worked with brands in publishing, consumer products, broadcasting and film for over 30 years. Follow Jeff on Twitter, and QCA on Facebook.